News > Program teaches math through chess
Program teaches math through chess
Nov 18, 2006 --
San Mateo County Times, California, USA


 By Christine Morente, STAFF WRITER

 Article Last Updated:11/04/2006 08:41:40 AM PST


NATALIE SMITH, 7, plays chess and asks instructor Amy Murad for help during an after-school program at Notre Dame Elementary School in Belmont. The class also teaches the students math. (MATHEW SUMNER - Staff )

BELMONT — Emma Kurr's steely green eyes stare at Natalie Smith, while she ponders where to move her king.

Natalie waits silently.

While the tension seemed high, Emma was nonplussed in the end.

"It was easy," said Natalie, 7, a second-grader at Notre Dame Elementary School. "I kept checking her. She should have left her king and queen up higher on the board. I got her queen first, and then she got stuck."

The duo's chess game is part of a worldwide program that combines math and chess in a mental sport. The after-school class at Notre Dame Elementary teaches youngsters how to strategize and the importance of sacrifice, said instructor Amy Murad, who brought Ho Math and Chess-Peninsula to San Carlos in March.

Murad, who has a science background and worked in biotech for the last 20 years, has about 60 students from around San Mateo County ages 4 to 13.

The center was founded by Frank Ho, a Canadian-certified math teacher from Vancouver, B.C. There are 19 Ho Math and Chess franchises worldwide.

Like Sylvan Learning Center or the Kumon Center — which also focuses on math — Ho Math and Chess provides chess lessons, tutoring and assigns homework.

"We're not trying to make them into superkids," Murad said. "We'retrying to make them comfortable with numbers."

She makes sure that her young students learn math without it being too obvious.

Each chess piece is assigned a certain number of points. The pawn is one

point, the knight and bishop are worth three points each, the rook is five points, the queen is nine, and the king has no worth, because once it is captured, the game is over. The object of the game, as in traditional chess, is to checkmate the opponent's king.

The children learn how to count through the point system. They also use math-and-chess integrated workbooks to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and problem-solving.

"Chess makes the mind focus, and math

Emma Kurr, 8, contemplates her next move during a chess game. (MATHEW SUMNER - Staff)
is the logic we're trying to get at," said Murad, who adds that the game is a metaphor for life. "It helps them make decisions, and it teaches them consequences."

Patrick Smith, a fourth-grader at Notre Dame, started playing chess after a five-year hiatus.

His favorite strategy is "Fool's Mate," a quick way to checkmate.

"I always lose with it," said the Foster City 9-year-old. "It's the oldest trick in the book, but it's not complicated."

Elizabeth Kurr enrolled her daughter Emma and 6-year-old son Benjamin so they can play chess with other children.

"It's too soon to tell how chess helps," said Kurr, who believes her children are becoming worthy opponents when they go against their dad, a game inventor. "But I like that they use their minds. They have some good surprise moves."


Staff writer Christine Morente can be reached at (650) 348-4333.